Amy LaVere has worked through some heavy stuff over the last few years, to say the least. She broke up with her boyfriend of six years (who was also her drummer), and her musical mentor and producer, Jim Dickinson, suddenly died. LaVere has powered through her pain, anger and anguish, though. She's back with a fine album, Stranger Me, produced by Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire, The Suburbs)).
We spoke with LaVere and asked about what she does in her downtime, how her tour is going, and what other artistic endeavors she has delved into recently.
The Pitch: Are you focusing on touring right now or on new material?
Amy LaVere: We've been touring consistently since the record has been out. We're in Seattle right now. We're meeting up in a half-hour to go to Portland.
You're very busy, then.
Yeah. Really busy. We love being on the West Coast.
How have people reacted to the new material when you've performed it live?
It's different because I have an entire band with me this time. We play a healthy bit of older and different material and the new songs. We're not just focusing on the depressing subject matter of the new release. We're definitely playing material from it, though. We have such a huge range of material and can pretty much figure out the set list 15 minuets before we go on. I can tailor it to what I think is going to be the best feel for people that are there.
Your band. How did you get ahold of everybody and get everyone in one place? You have some pretty notable people playing with you.
Well. David Cousar, he's on the record and he's really just tremendous, completely admired. His style is twang, and he wasn't touring with anybody at the moment. The drummer on the record is Paul Taylor (LaVere's ex).
On her touring drummer: Paul has a solo identity and he's also a songwriter. We've maintained a friendship and keep in touch, and he was sort of bragging to me about this young kid drummer he had found. And I said, 'Well, can I have his number?' So, I kind of stole Paul's drummer away from him.
On her violist: She was a friend of my dog sitter, the guy that would come stay at my house when I was touring. I have a little home demo situation. He really enjoyed playing with that when I was gone. I listened to some of the demos he made, and there was a violin player on one of his recordings. She was just wonderful. I've known her now for just a couple of years. It took a little bit for me to be able to afford to have her in the band, and I still really can't, but I felt that in order to perform this record, I really needed a fourth element onstage.
Did you know what you wanted to make before writing the record?
I know for sure I didn't go into the record thinking I was making a breakup record. A lot of the material for the record I wrote when I was in the relationship. It was more of a battle and trying to keep it together rather than after the fact. But, it wasn't a breakup record. The material was written over a couple of years.
What style of music do you naturally gravitate toward?
Well, to be perfectly honest, when I sit down to write a song, I try to make more with the bass because I tend to prefer what I come up with when I write on the bass. But if I have lyrics in mind and I just want to throw down a structure because I'm being hasty about it, I write on the guitar. Typically it ends up sounding like a bad country tune at its inception because I'm so limited on the guitar. I'm just sort of a cowboy chord guitar player. But it's functional to keep an idea down. I sort of cut my teeth on the upright playing country and rockabilly. Things start out pretty rudimentary when I write with the guitar. I'm attracted to all styles of music, but sometimes lyrically, I feel like I come up with a different style of music than I thought it was the day before, to support the story of the song. Does that make sense?
That does make sense. If you went into something thinking it was going to sound a certain way, then it would probably be a disaster. I think that's how it is when writing anything.
I assume you, like many creative people, have had a rough go at 'normal jobs'? (LaVere has a song called "You Can't Keep Me Here" about a boring job.) Have you reached the point where you can say goodbye to that life and pursue all things musical?
I'm not there yet. Yeah. I'm not. I tour so much now, I'm not in the position to have a regular job. I've been working on and off for a catering company. I have a couple other bands that I play upright bass in. I just sort of hustle every day. The catering job, a bartending job. I even have a friend that I painted houses with for a long time, and sometimes I'll call and say, 'Do you have a spare paintbrush around the job site? Can you put me to work today?' As far as, like, if you want to play music and you're not super-crafty at other things to draw attention to your act, like a gimmick or being some sort of incredible computer genius, then I think, unless some strange star shines on you, you're going to have to balance it with real life. I don't have any of those gimmicks or whistles or bells. I just really enjoy songs and playing music, and I go home and I hustle.
Is there anything upcoming that you want people to know about?
I was in this little film called Women's Picture that was filmed the year before last. It started at festivals this year, and there's going to be a screening in L.A. on October 6. The film is about three women. It centers around those lead characters. I'm one of the leads of the story. It's a funny, beautiful and sad film. This boutique perfumer has created a line of perfumes based on the three characters in the film. October 7 is the perfume launch party. So, my character Loretta has her own perfume.
That's pretty awesome.
Well, my character is a bit nuts, and you get frustrated at her, but you feel sorry for her at the same time. You just kind of want her to pull her shit together. So she's off. I fear if the perfume was inspired by her, it might smell off.
Well, sometimes crazy smells good.
Maybe. Maybe it will smell crazy good.
Amy LaVere will play Knuckleheads' Retro Lounge on Saturday, September 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $15 in advance.